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16/09/2008

Eurocare holds successful Evening Reception on ‘Alcohol and Pregnancy' in European Parliament

Over 50 people attended the Eurocare Evening Reception in the European Parliament, marking ”International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Awareness Day” on Tuesday 9th September 2008.

Hosted by MEPs Ms Mairead McGuinness (EPP, IE) and Ms Catherine Stihler (PSE, UK), the reception was attended by a number of MEPs including Jules Maaten (ALDE, NL), Glenis Willmott (PSE, UK), Mary Lou McDonald (GUE, IE) among others.

The reception was also attended by a number of Eurocare member organisations as well as representatives of NGOs supporting the Eurocare "Alcohol and Pregnancy" campaign (European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), Confederation of Family Organisations (COFACE), Mental Health Europe, and the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME).

The reception was a unique opportunity to learn more about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and discuss the different policy options to curb its incidence, notably, the labelling of alcoholic beverages.

Speakers included:

Dr Diane Black: Co-founder and secretary of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Foundation of the Netherlands and the adoptive mother of three children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Diane provided an overview of the risks associated to prenatal exposure to alcohol, emphasising there are NO safe limits of alcohol consumption during pregnancy,which is why abstinence is recommended. Despite the difficulties linked to estimating the prevalence of FASD, partly due to the preference of "non guilty" diagnoses (such as ADHD, PDD- NOS etc), it is believed that increasingly high numbers of babies are prenatally exposed to alcohol.

View her presentation: " Alcohol and Pregnancy: What everyone should know"

Maître Benoît Titran: A French lawyer from Lille, he had a pivotal role in the implementation of warning labels on alcoholic beverages in France (mandatory since October 2006) after conducting legal action against the alcohol industry, to protect unborn children and inform pregnant women of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy.

Benoît gave an overview of the French formal complaint which led to the awareness of the legal responsibility of the state to require health warning labels on alcoholic beverages. it was emphasised that a similar approach could be taken at EU level, on the basis of consumer protection law, itself underpinned by the notion of safety.

View his presentation: "Labelling: A Legal Obligation with a Positive Impact"

Pieter De Coninck: Representing DG Sanco (health and Consumer Protection Directorate), European Commission.

Pieter gave an overview of the EC 'Communication setting out a strategy to support Member States in reducing alcohol-related harm', where the protection of children and the unborn child is highlighted as a priority theme.The first progress report of the Alcohol Strategy will be published in 2009.Although there are no plans for harmonised legislation at EU level,it was emphasised that several steps could be taken towards the right direction.

Firstly, concrete action in the framework of the multi-stakeholder platform "EU Alcohol and Health Forum", a cornerstone of the EU Alcohol Strategy. Secondly, by seeking funding for new projects relating to "Alcohol and Pregnancy" via the Public Health Programme 2008-2013. Lastly, the role of member States was emphasised as crucial; indeed, France is, at present, the only MS where such labelling is mandatory - Poland and Finland tried to implement a similar measure, but unfortunately did not succeed.

T iziana Codenotti: Vice Chairwoman of Eurocare closed the talks by recognising that, as a stand alone measure, labelling alone will not suffice to significantly reduce alcohol related harm. However, Eurocare believes labelling should be part of a comprehensive strategy to provide information and educate consumers about alcohol.

She regretted the exemption of wine, beer, and spirits from the Commission proposal on the provision of food information to consumers. She emphasised that the communication, currently being debated in the European Parliament, represented a missed opportunity for a more comprehensive approach to the reduction od alcohol related harm in Europe.

She called upon the European Institutions to place the protection of Citizen's health and well being ahead of economic interests of the alcohol industry by requiring alcohol producers to provide information on the ingredients, nutritional values, and the risks associated to alcohol consumption.

View her speech

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is the leading known cause of birth defects (brain damage) in the EU. It affects about 1% of people in the EU27 (i.e. nearly 5 million people) and is the only one that is 100% preventable

The umbrella term Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), describes the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These can include physical, mental, behavioural and or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications.